The Vegas Golden Knights fell 3-2 to the Washington Capitals in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final. The Golden Knights didn’t register a shot on goal for a full half-period in the third. Brooks Orpik, who hadn’t scored since February of 2016, scored the game-winning goal.
The simple truth of this game is: the Golden Knights just weren’t good enough. After losing Evgeny Kuznetsov in the first period, the Capitals played their best hockey, and the Golden Knights couldn’t match them.
James Neal opened the scoring with an astounding display of hand-eye coordination near the first period’s midway point.
GOAL. James Neal opens the scoring! pic.twitter.com/kvC9pNpmA9— Ryan Quigley (@RP_Quigs) May 31, 2018
Here’s everything Neal does on that play:
1. Knocks the puck out of mid-air and past Dmitry Orlov.
2. Steps past Orlov and gets some separation.
3. Absolutely snipes a goal past Braden Holtby.
He makes a remarkable play, and that’s how hard it was to score on Holtby at even strength.
Lars Eller tied it up at the end of the first period, after a player for each side went to the box.
Eller ties it up. Not a goal Fleury will be too happy about. pic.twitter.com/WYog4E7C2w— Ryan Quigley (@RP_Quigs) May 31, 2018
Yes, Marc-Andre Fleury over-commits on this play, and is far out of his net. But on the other hand, what is Colin Miller doing? He’s facing the net, for who knows why, instead of focusing on Eller, his assignment, who’s immediately behind him, wide open. Maybe putting two offensive-focused defensemen out on a defensive zone draw at 4-on-4 was a bad idea.
Then the Golden Knights had an incredibly sloppy second period, including taking bad penalties and allowing the Capitals to get on the board twice.
Ovechkin scores his first-ever goal in the Stanley Cup Final. Gorgeous work on the power play for Washington. pic.twitter.com/ESeaBSJn3v— Ryan Quigley (@RP_Quigs) May 31, 2018
I know the penalty kill is all about cutting off passing lanes and not allowing the man advantage to do damage. When the team is Washington, though, maybe permanently assign a player to Alex Ovechkin?
It looks like the Golden Knights forgot he exists on this play, and while Deryk Engelland and Tomas Nosek both try to get over, neither succeeds. That allows one of the best goal scorers in NHL history the ability to do his work. It’s reminiscent of the Patrik Laine goals in the Winnipeg Jets series.
There’s not much anybody can do on this play. It just takes bad bounces multiple times, and it doesn’t allow Fleury to focus on it before bouncing off a post as well. This one hurts but it can’t be changed. It would take a lot of luck for Orpik to score, and it was the only 5-on-5 goal for Washington in this game.
When Theodore scored at the end of the second, it left a lot of hope for Knights fans, but that hope went unfulfilled.
GOAL. Shea Theodore cuts the Washington lead in half! pic.twitter.com/OF5xXP7uJP— Ryan Quigley (@RP_Quigs) May 31, 2018
The Golden Knights had a very nice 69-second 5-on-3 power play, and they couldn’t convert. They had a long stretch of power-play time (three minutes) wherein they had nine shots, but none went in. Then they went without a shot for more than 10 minutes.
When Fleury got pulled at the end of the game, Alex Tuch came up with this opportunity, but Holtby made an incredible save to keep the puck out of the net.
Braden Holtby may have just made the save of the year. pic.twitter.com/lJolKOBPxa— Ryan Quigley (@RP_Quigs) May 31, 2018
It’s a wide open net for Tuch, but Holtby just denies him point-blank. What an effort.
The Knights’ defense was problematic throughout this game. While the Capitals were able to take away the ice from the Vegas forwards, the Knights couldn’t do the same. Too many cross-ice passes led to more than one goal, and that is something the Golden Knights need to crack down on going forward.
Here is the heat map for Game 2:
The Golden Knights kept allowing the Capitals’ forwards to take over the crease, and that led to two of their goals. The Capitals continually had clear passing lanes, and the Knights’ defense looked overwhelmed at times. It’s the same way they looked in Game 1, but Fleury stepped his game up a little bit.
On the flip side, the Capitals’ defense forced Vegas to the outside and take shots from the point. Vegas couldn’t get inside consistently, and it allowed Holtby to escape high-danger shots from close range through much of the game.
The Golden Knights need to find a way inside the Capitals’ defense and a way to force the Capitals outside. Let Fleury have room to breathe, and maybe he can return to pre-Final form. Cutting off passing lanes is priority one. Forcing the Capitals to deal with the speed of the Golden Knights is priority two.
In addition, the Capitals only scored one 5-on-5 goal, but they were able to capitalize on one out of two power-play opportunities. The Golden Knights got five chances to do the same, but only converted once. The special teams need to be better, and if the Golden Knights converted on a long 5-on-3, this could have been a different game.
The Golden Knights seized control of Corsi and shot share as the game went on, but the final high-danger total was only 7-7 at even strength. Half of the Knights’ high-danger chances came from the fourth line. Yes, they scored multiple times in Game 1, but relying on them to do the heavy lifting offensively is... not smart.
Holtby made 37 stops on 39 chances for a .949 save percentage. Fleury made 23 stops on 26 shots for an .885 save percentage. A goaltender finally played better than Fleury.
The Knights have to be better. It remains to be seen whether they will. Vegas will take on the Capitals for Game 3 on Saturday.